Amid calls by the South African steel industry for improved tariff protection against the import of inexpensive Chinese steel, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe has cited overarching trade considerations, political alliances and South Africa’s inclusion in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, or Brics, grouping as factors rendering the move to higher import tariffs unlikely.
Addressing the media at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, on Tuesday, the Minister implied that South African exports to the Asian State could be jeopardised should South Africa hike tariffs on one of its largest trading partner’s most significant African export products.
“We’re doing business with China and we’re part of the Brics. We’re [also] in the process of building a State partnership [with China] because we have to.
“So we can’t just put steel tariffs up. China’s a huge economy . . . what happens if they do the same to us?” he put to members of the media.
Increasing import competition had recently enflamed calls for trade protection and had seen steelmaker ArcelorMittal South Africa recently lodge a normal customs duty increase application with the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (Itac), alleging injury as a result of increasing steel imports from China.
The company revealed in a recent trading statement that it would make a headline loss a share in the half-year to June 30 that could be as much as 1 400% worse than the 2c/share loss incurred in the corresponding period last year.
This came as several of its local counterparts appeared to be flailing in the price-depressed market, including South Africa steel stalwart and the country’s second-largest producer Evraz Highveld Steel & Vanadium, which filed for business rescue in May.
Radebe, however, cautioned that repairs to the local steel market through the hiking of import charges could not easily be achieved without notable detrimental knock-on effects in other South Africa–China trade areas.
“We have to be careful. [Increasing import tariffs on steel from China] is a matter for discussion.
“South Africa has a long way to go and China is helping with our infrastructure build [and is being] very supportive,” he averred.
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel added via a videolink on Tuesday that the steel protection mechanism matter was currently under consideration by Itac, which would come to a formal conclusion that best suited the interests of all stakeholders.
“Itac is applying its mind to the matter . . . there are a lot of complex issues that need to be considered before it makes a decision and it needs to consider all cases,” he commented.
Radebe and Patel’s comments followed a media briefing at the Union Buildings during which President Jacob Zuma updated journalists on programmes and initiatives prioritised in his State of the Nation Address earlier this year.